Authority of the Torches

By Dara Eklund
[From a talk delivered at Theosophical Library Center, Altadena, California, on April 2, 2004.]
In the night I accept the authority of the torches, although I know there is a sun. -- Victor Hugo

In the West today the word authority has been tainted by fears of dogmas and false leaders spinning broken promises. We face the enigma of striving for perfection, seeking heroes and role models, in an imperfect world. What did Victor Hugo mean by his stirring words? Surely not blind servility. The great literary figure continued: "The very law which requires that mankind should have no owners requires that it should have GUIDES. To be ENLIGHTENED is the reverse of being SUBJECTED." In Isis Unveiled H. P. Blavatsky wrote about such guides:

Like signal-fires of the olden times, which, lighted and extinguished by turns upon one hill-top after another, conveyed intelligence along a whole stretch of country, so we see a long line of "wise" men from the beginning of history down to our own times communicating the word of wisdom to their direct successors. Passing from seer to seer, the "Word" flashes out like lightning, and while carrying off the initiator from human sight forever, brings the new initiate into view. -- 2:571

Knowing the vast cycles, these Great Ones come amidst mankind, as the Bhagavad-Gita tells us, "whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world." While it is of great comfort to be aware of these wise guides behind the scenes, and to realize that the gods preside as loving overseers in those inner spheres we long for, we are cautioned not to yearn too much for their presence:

remove all vain longings for a present sojourn with our unseen guides and brothers. . . .
But concretely, there is a certain object for our general work. It is to start up a new force, a new current in the world, whereby great and long-gone Gnanis, or wise ones, will be attracted back to incarnate among men here and there, and thus bring back the true life and the true practices. Just now a pall of darkness is over all that no Gnani will be attracted by. Here and there a few beams strike through this. . . . We have, each one of us, to make ourselves a centre of light; a picture gallery from which shall be projected on the astral light such scenes, such influences, such thoughts, as may influence many for good, shall thus arouse a new current, and then finally result in drawing back the great and the good from other spheres from beyond the earth. -- William Quan Judge, Letters That Have Helped Me 2:8-9

We are urged, rather, to seek the way to the real self, the spiritual sun within. What prevents the light from illumining us and inhibits the action of the inner god? Describing the mean, small, restricted grip of the personality, which compacts the atmosphere around our being, G. de Purucker asked, "How can the inner man expand without breaking the shell of the lower selfhood? How can the god within manifest -- your own divine consciousness -- until the imperfect, the small, the constricted . . . has been surpassed . . . abandoned, cast aside?" Here lies the struggle, the dark night of the soul. Here is where the "torches" are needed to allow passage for the true light. Purucker added:

The gods call to us constantly -- not in human words, but in those soundless symbols transmitted to us along the inner ethers which man's heart and soul interpret as spiritual instinct, aspiration, love, self-forgetfulness; and the whole import of what these voiceless messages are, is: "Come up higher!" -- Golden Precepts of Esotericism, p. 86

How does one know the spiritual voice within? How do we become "Imperial Consorts of Heaven," like the goddesses of ancient China, the compeers of those higher beings who uplift our minds and hearts? Where is the path to those interior Buddha Fields from which we might reshape in their image the parched fields of earth? To become a center of light we don't have to sit like ascetics in meditative postures. Without travelling is the Path, we have heard, and Krishna informs Arjuna that the place gained by the renouncer of action is that attained also by one who is devoted in action. Recalling the words of Sri Jnaneshwar, visualized in The Dream of Ravan:

Whether one would set out to the bloom of the East or come to the chambers of the West, without moving, oh! holder of the bow! is the travelling in this road. . . . to whatever place one would go, that town (or locality) one's own self becomes! -- p. 78

Recalling the noble imagery of the archer, and how the archer by his gaze allows his arrow to become one with its target, reminds us that perhaps the most beautiful prayer is aspiration transmuted into action. Behind the weak motivation for most prayers and supplications, in which we place the burden for our success on some outside power, is the conviction that such powers do exist, that truth is enshrined in our own hearts, that we may become that which we envision. Our wills have been weakened by lack of exercise or by relying upon others to pave the way. Yet the gods themselves are held within the bounds of cosmic law. B. P. Wadia defines will as the force of spirit in action: "As man is eternally thinking and Spirit eternally acting, Will, Thought and Action form a divine trilogy" (in Inspiration for Aspirants, ed. Jeanne Sims, p. 21).

To develop willpower we need to perceive the difference between being independent and being willful. Many today demand their rights and privileges based on shifting desires, established codes, buttressed with entrenched social values of mutual selfishness, disguised as the right of free choice. Seldom do we find people speaking of the right to pursue their duties, the ability to refrain from criticizing another in completing his duty, or non-interference in our neighbor's lives. The old proverb "Good fences make good neighbors" is certainly true in our ethical lives where we should refrain from invading the privacy of others, even in thought. A guardian wall may also be fashioned by the cement of silence, protecting another from harmful gossip. Or it may be mixed with the sweet waters of kind, supportive words which do not add to the negative thoughts spread carelessly by a society unaware of the power of sound. We have to become partners with the hierarchy of compassion to reflect its beneficence to others.

I believe this partnership is what Hugo meant by the authority of the torches, for are there not indeed all kinds of "torches"? There are living beacons who shine as lighthouse beams, faithfully guiding ships from shoals, rocky points, and treacherous shorelines, courageous men and women whose self-sacrifice inflames like fire. There are also rush lights and wisps of inspiration from those whose genius eludes even themselves but sheds light or spurs others onward. Then there are the great beings whose light issues gently and steadily like that of our sun. When Krishna revealed "The glory and amazing splendor of this mighty Being . . . likened to the radiance shed by a thousand suns rising together into the heavens," the sight overwhelmed Arjuna. Thinking of Hugo's statement, G. de Purucker stated:

there are certain human minds and certain human hearts for whom the glorious sun is too bright. They like the authority of the torches. They like the smaller lights because the smaller lights are more easy to follow, more indulgent, easier to understand. But some day they will walk out of the shadows where their only lights are the torches, out of the cave which Plato spoke of, where men saw only the dancing shadows on the wall. They will walk out into the sunlight. Then the torches will be laid aside. -- Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 591

Wise ones do not always dwell amidst mankind in the full splendor of blazing torches, but foster ideas which touch the inner consciousness of those who are ready. One of H. P. Blavatsky's teachers informed A. P. Sinnett that, in contrast to Spiritualism, the only "Spirits" they believed in were the higher planetary spirits, the hierarchy of compassion for our earth. It was their hope to form a "genuine, practical Brotherhood of Humanity where all will become co-workers of nature," working for mankind's good by assisting those "planetary Spirits." To do so we must focus on principles, and not on opinions or issues which invade the brain-mind at every angle. We could visualize the guardian wall protecting mankind as an edifice of Principle. As Franz Hartmann asserted, the human soul admires beautiful forms but the human spirit loves principles. In "A Common Hymn" of Proclus we find these final words to capture the imagination:

While bound for home I raise th' impatient sails,
And paths divine unfold as I ascend.
Give me to see those beams of glorious light,
Which aid the soul from Generation's night . . .
While bound for home I raise th' impatient sails,
Impel my vessel o'er life's stormy main,
Till the fair port of Piety I gain;
For there my soul, with mighty toils oppress'd,
Shall find her long-lost Paradise of rest.

(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2004; copyright © 2004 Theosophical University Press)

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